People of Color in Regency England: Research Post

Trying to come up with a general estimation for the presence of people of color in Regency Era Britain. 19th century census records didn’t record race, and then you’ve got the inherent racism of period sources like Wuthering Heights (one mixed-race character who is abusive and barbaric) and Jane Eyre (one mixed-race character who is violent and insane), and Dickens turns a hard eye on poverty and disadvantaged people without … ever mentioning race? Are there any people of color in Dickens’ works? I can’t recall any.

Anyway, the best actual data I’ve turned up so far is that Somerset’s Case in 1772 emancipated an estimated 10,000-14,000 slaves in England and Wales at that time. If you consider that the 1771 census of England and Wales gives the total population as 6.5 million persons, this means that black persons comprised at a minimum 0.2% of the population.

I emphasize the minimum since those numbers do not account for the already free black persons living in England and Wales at the time (free black persons have lived in Britain since at least AD 43, on account of black Roman citizens, who let me tell you existed at a much higher rate than Hollywood productions of ancient Rome would have you believe), but 19th century English census data does not include any information on race so it’s hard to get more specific.

Plus you’ve got to consider that the British Empire had intense trade and colonization across the world from the late 1500s (East India Company founded in December 1600), which brought in loads of POC under various circumstances, many of whom settled or married in England.

Census data in the UK from 2001 puts POC population at 8% (black: 2%) and 2011 census at POC 13% (black: 3%).

Which means vaguely that: at least 0.2% in 1772, 2% in 2001, so the black population of Regency England was probably between 0.2-2.0 percent of the population. I would be very interested in any other sources of hard data or population estimations on this topic. I’ve got plenty of specific cases of 19th Century Black Londoners, but relatively little specific cases of other POC populations, or, uh, any hard numbers between 1772 and 2001.

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